How Rihanna shook the beauty industry by challenging what it means to be inclusive

Yahoo Lifestyle’s Diversity in Beauty Awards (the DIBs) highlight and celebrate personalities, brands, and products that embody inclusiveness and innovation. Fenty Beauty was a 2018 winner. 

Rihanna is an award-winning musician who made the world fall in love with radio hits such as “Umbrella,” “We Found Love,” and “Wild Thoughts.” She is also a fashion muse for designer brands, including Dior and Puma. While there is no doubt that these successes play into the self-proclaimed bad gal’s superstar status, in 2017 it was the debut of her cosmetics line, Fenty Beauty, that truly changed the game.

On Sept. 8 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rihanna unveiled Fenty Beauty to a room full of beauty editors, bloggers, influencers, makeup artists, and industry experts. The range included a primer, highlighters, blotting powder, lip gloss, makeup brushes — and last, but certainly far from least — 40 foundation shades, ranging from very fair to very deep.

“After years of experimenting with the best-of-the-best in beauty — and still seeing a void in the industry for products that performed across all skin types and tones, she launched a makeup line ‘so that women everywhere would be included,'” the brand shared in an official statement. In addition to her loyal fanbase, aka the Rihanna Navy, people around the globe were excited about seeing what they felt was one key element missing from the beauty world: makeup representation for all.

THIS IS NOT A DRILL! www.fentybeauty.com. Get it.

A post shared by FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA (@fentybeauty) on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:56pm PDT


The products were available for purchase at mega beauty haven Sephora and department store giant JCPenney, and Fenty Beauty items sold like ice pops on a scorching hot summer day. In its first month, Fenty Beauty earned $72 million in media value (revenue received from social media), according to WWDRiri managed to beat out other popular brands with her outstanding reach, including reality star Kylie Jenner’s popular namesake line, Kylie Cosmetics.

“I believe Rihanna is an icon across the board — fashion, music, and beauty — so not only were her fans super-excited but people into beauty products were also hyped,” celebrity makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff told Yahoo Lifestyle. “The marketing and promotion on social media with makeup artists and models, as well as real women, also was just genius.”

Digging deeper into the numbers, it actually doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Rihanna knows how to bring in the big bucks. In fact, in 2016, she was listed as one of the most marketable celebrities, beating out Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Khloé Kardashian, based on research conducted by the NPD Group. The same study also revealed that fans of Rihanna are 3.7 times as likely to purchase from the 30-year-old megastar as they are from other stars. With all the success Rihanna has already seen with other brands — such as Puma and Chopard — the marketability of Fenty Beauty was almost a no-brainer.

Rihanna with a display of her namesake makeup line, Fenty Beauty. (Photo: Getty Images)
Rihanna with a display of her namesake makeup line, Fenty Beauty. (Photo: Getty Images)

Of all the products Fenty Beauty has to offer, the most talked about had to be the Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation. Available in 40 shades, it is an oil-free formula that can easily build from medium to full coverage. An added bonus: It’s made with climate-adaptive technology to give your complexion a shine-free look that wears like second skin.

Editorial makeup artist Justine Purdue told Yahoo Lifestyle that the foundations also offer a wide range of “undertone variations.” Just a few short days after the official launch of Fenty Beauty, a tweet of a beauty display at Sephora showing nearly all the darker foundations missing went viral. The caption read, “The dark Fenty Beauty foundations are sold out everywhere! This is for all the makeup brands who think the dark shades won’t sell.”

As Allure reported, certain beauty brands have made the statement that darker shades won’t sell. However, Fenty Beauty’s inclusive range of foundations proved that notion false. Another important statistic to point out is that in 2013, African-Americans had at least $1.3 trillion of total buying power, with black women specifically shelling out $7.5 billion annually on beauty products  — 80 percent more on cosmetics than non-black consumers.


When it comes to creating formulations for skin of color, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Cover FX Victor Casale — who was also former founding partner, chief chemist, and managing director of MAC Cosmetics — told Yahoo Lifestyle, “The most difficult thing when I’m formulating dark shades is finding models and skin tones that I can bring into the lab to verify the shades. But I have done that. I’ve set up color verification labs in universities and colleges where I send my team.” He also points out how diverse the shade range can be within deeper skin tones. “There’s a new shade born every day,” he said.

In addition to the vast range of complexions among people of color, a 2015 Cosmopolitan article highlighted that the process of formulating these foundations properly can be quite complex. Balanda Atis, a scientist with L’Oréal USA (which owns L’Oréal Paris and Lancôme), explained: “While brands might succeed in making darker shades, they didn’t always get the undertones or the depth right.”

She continued, “Typically, there are four pigments used to create one shade: white, yellow, red, and black. To create deeper hues, some chemists mix in too much black pigment, which can leave skin looking bruised.”

“For a caramel hue, there may be too much red or yellow, which can leave skin looking orange,” added Atis. “Sometimes, chemists add titanium dioxide, a pigment used in many cosmetics to add coverage. Result: an ashy finish. So even when dark shades are available, many of them haven’t been very good.”

Will Rihanna be the new queen of the cosmetics world? (Photo: Getty Images)
Will Rihanna be the new queen of the cosmetics world? (Photo: Getty Images)

While Fenty Beauty foundations launched during a year when there was a louder cry for inclusivity, especially within the beauty industry, there are a select number of brands — such as Black Opal, IMAN Cosmetics, and Fashion Fair — that have catered to women of color since their inception, in addition to modern-day prestige picks from Make Up For Ever, NARS, and Lancôme.

Reflecting back on the beginning stages of IMAN Cosmetics, Desiree Reid, the general manager of Impala Inc., explained why supermodel Iman was charged up to create foundations for women with deeper skin tones similar to her own.

“When Iman started modeling, she had to mix her own makeup — the artists on set never had her exact shade,” Reid said. “Iman knew if she was experiencing this, then everyday women were feeling just as frustrated. There was a huge hole in the market. General market brands had two or three ‘dark’ shades at the end of their lines, so women with skin of color had very little options to address their skin tones. This was what influenced Iman’s decision to create IMAN Cosmetics.”

Reid added, “Most women with skin of color express the same frustration about makeup not matching their skin tones. That’s why the IMAN range is designed for all women with skin of color. The problem with most brands is not that skin of color is difficult to match; it’s that most brands don’t have experience with the nuances of skin of color. A brown foundation is not just a beige foundation with black pigment added to it.”

Other brands are continuing to make sure extensive testing is part of the process of creating new foundations as well. Manami Kuwamura, the executive director of complexion/skincare marketing and product development at NARS, spoke to Yahoo Lifestyle about the process of creating their latest Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation, which has 33 rich hues that cover a wide spectrum of complexions.

“It took over 100 different submissions and two years in development to perfect our new Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation, which launched this December,” said Kuwamura. “Our goal was to defy the common expectation that long-wear foundations mean a matte finish. We challenged our chemists to create a formula using the serum base that delivered the highest amount of hydration with long wear capabilities.”

During Fenty Beauty’s launch in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rihanna showed off her highlighting skills on model Leomie Anderson. (Photo: Getty Images)
During Fenty Beauty’s launch in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rihanna showed off her highlighting skills on model Leomie Anderson. (Photo: Getty Images)

Make Up For Ever’s general manager for the Americas, Laure de Metz, also spoke to the overall importance of inclusivity of the brand she represents, as well as others across the industry such as Fenty Beauty. “Inclusivity is finally a major topic of conversation in the makeup industry, and as a brand that values diversity, universality, and self-confidence, we’re thrilled that more brands are creating foundations for a wide range of skin tones,” she said. “There are several brands that come to mind, but it’s exciting to see both new brands like Fenty and Huda Beauty, as well as heritage brands like Lancôme and Estée Lauder, doing such a great job of creating shades for all skin tones.”

Tracking back to the epic success of the foundations of Fenty Beauty, it almost goes without saying that Rihanna isn’t done yet. Shortly after the initial launch, a holiday collection came out and people were ready to skip paying a month’s rent for it. Not too long after that, red-lip lovers were overjoyed to rock Stunna Lip Paint — a highly pigmented red some of our staff consider one of the best red lipsticks of all time. Then, Mattemoiselle Plush Matte Lipsticks dropped back in December with 14 universal shades that included a deep rouge cleverly named PMS, as well as a true navy blue called Clapback that blew up all over social media.

What’s your mood? | #MATTEMOISELLE in #CLAPBACK | @sayaka_xx

A post shared by FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA (@fentybeauty) on Mar 25, 2018 at 2:42pm PDT


Along with everyday makeup enthusiasts, A-list celebrities are equally obsessed with Fenty Beauty. Gabourey Sidibe gave the line her stamp of approval, and Cardi B has been spotted wearing Killawatt Freestyle Highlighter in Trophy Wife. Guys aren’t excluded, either. For the 2018 Oscars, Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya’s rich skin tone glistened on the red carpet. His secret? Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation in shades 480 and 490.

Daniel Kaluuya attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards wearing Fenty BeautyPro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation. (Photo: Getty)
Daniel Kaluuya attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards wearing Fenty BeautyPro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation. (Photo: Getty)

The beloved brand has marketing down to a science. In December, a fun face filter was launched to allow shoppers to try on Killawatt Trophy Wife. Then, on Rihanna’s 30th birthday (Feb. 20), a limited-edition version of the highlighter was released. Additionally, muses such as model Duckie Thot and recording artist SZA have strategically been included in all the Fenty promo fun. The brand also highlights the creativity of fans with the viral hashtag campaign #FentyFaceFriday, where they repost individuals of diverse backgrounds rocking Riri’s signature makeup line.





Rihanna knows how to handle negative backlash about her brand, too. When a Twitter user suggested she “invite a trans girl to the group” for Fenty Beauty campaigns, this was the beauty mogul’s response: “I’ve had the pleasure of working with many gifted trans women throughout the years, but I don’t go around doing trans castings! Just like I don’t do straight non-trans women castings! I respect all women, and whether they’re trans or not is none of my business!”


Rihanna launched her latest products, the Beach, Please! Summer 2018 Collection, on April 6. This unique group of products includes two shimmering Body Lava Luminizers, a Face & Body Kabuki Brush, and a Fairy Bomb Glittering Pom Pom to give fans a sparkling, sun-kissed glow from head to toe.

Fenty Beauty Body Lava Body Luminizer, released on April 6, is available in two radiant shades ($59, Sephora). (Photo: Fenty Beauty)
Fenty Beauty Body Lava Body Luminizer, released on April 6, is available in two radiant shades ($59, Sephora). (Photo: Fenty Beauty)

There seems to be a pattern of optimal greatness here, and it’s crystal clear why Fenty Beauty was also awarded “Invention of the Year” by Time in 2017. “I never could have anticipated the emotional connection that women are having with the products and the brand as a whole,” Rihanna shared with the publication in an interview. “Some are finding their shade of foundation for the first time, getting emotional at the counter. That’s something I will never get over.”

Will Rihanna be the new queen of the cosmetics industry? After the phenomenal first few months Fenty Beauty has had, we can bet she has more extraordinary tricks up her sleeve that will continue to push boundaries, ignite colossal levels of black girl magic, and continually shake up the beauty industry.

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